I want the right to choose to die, MacDonald tells Scots Parliament

Mark Hughes
Friday 28 March 2008 01:00

A veteran politician who has lived with Parkinson's disease for 12 years has told the Scottish Parliament that she wants to have the right to choose to die should her condition deteriorate to a point where her life is unbearable.

Margo MacDonald, the independent member for Lothians, made the heartfelt plea during a debate on whether patients with a terminal illness should be allowed to be assisted in taking their lives.

"As you know, I have a degenerative condition," said Ms MacDonald, 64. "And I would like to have the right to determine by how much my capacity to fulfil my social function, my familial functions, my personal functions is going to be truncated.

"And I would like to have the ability to take that decision. I don't want to burden any doctor. I don't want to burden any friend or family member. I want to find a way in which I can take the decision to end my life in case I'm unlucky enough to have the worst form of Parkinson's."

She said doctors had admitted that palliative care, which is designed to minimise the effect the symptoms of the disease have on a person's life and family, was not always effective. "I'm mindful of that and I might be unlucky," she added. "I apologise for being personal in this, but it's not a theory with me."

To brand it "illegal" for someone to "force themselves to die" was, she added, "to deny the bravery of countless soldiers throughout the ages", adding: "People have made that decision for one reason or another. It is just that we're now accepting it's possible to make that decision when you are in sound mind and it can be taken in a measured capacity."

Ms MacDonald added: "I am mindful of what the doctors say and how difficult it is for them. However, I have read the personal testimony of doctors and have seen doctors who have admitted in court to assisting a suicide. They are no less doctors in my estimation."

The debate had been called by the Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis, who believes that the law should be changed to allow terminally ill people to be allowed assistance to die, if they wish. He said: "The time is right for the Parliament to be able to hold a full and open inquiry into choices that people can and should be able to make at the end of a terminal illness."

The Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, said the Scottish government had no plans to change the law.

Ms MacDonald, a former school teacher in Hamilton, has been a vocal supporter of Scottish independence since winning her seat in the 1973 Glasgow Govan by-election for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). A year later, she was deputy leader.

But she left the party in 1982 and became a prominent presenter of television and radio shows and a columnist for newspapers. She returned to the SNP in the 1990s and was elected to Parliament in 1999. But, after being placed fifth on the SNP list for Lothian in the 2003 elections, which gave her virtually no chance of being elected, she again left the party and stood as an independent. She was elected, then re-elected last year.

In 2002, she admitted she had a mild form of Parkinson's. She said she had known about her condition for six years, and condemned "dark forces" in the SNP she believed had leaked the information in an attempt to undermine her.

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